Long Tianmo’s benefits for Emperor Kangcheng came from none other than Western Zhou’s elite troops led by the Chu Clan! When the Chu Clan had betrayed Western Zhou and went to seek refuge with Tianning, the two elders of the Chu family had stirred up troops to create civil unrest. The vast forces of the Chu Clan troops escaped the control of Western Zhou and caused the country to fall from its seat as a vast nation to today’s straits. However, Ning Cheng taught the traitor Chu troops a deep lesson. They not only failed to conquer Tianning, but lost a firm footing in the world. The losses they suffered could be said to be catastrophic.
Then Chu Tianyin listened to Gu Beiyue’s plans and pretended to surrender to Western Zhou, helping it gain a chance to ally with Tianan Country. The two sides then teamed up to attack Ning Cheng together, forcing the man to use the red coat cannons he’d been saving for a fight against Northern Li. Although Ning Cheng ultimately wrested a victory and won campaigns against both nations, his army had suffered losses as a result. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have lost so many successive battles against the Baili Army later.
Thanks to the horse plague, Northern Li hadn’t gotten involved in any of the fights down south. Meanwhile, Long Feiye held control over the seat of government in the south central regions where the real wealth lay. Western Zhou and Tianan were separated by Tianning between them. Their cooperation came about at the cost of Chu Tianyin risking his life in front of Ning Cheng. However, Long Tianmo was now simply using the Chu Clan troops as bait to lure Emperor Kangcheng into his clutches. What would Chu Tianyin think if he knew the truth?
Long Tianmo had offered Emperor Kangcheng someone he had in his hands: a powerful deputy general of the Chu Clan named Wei Mingshi (魏明时). Each of the Seven Noble Families had limited numbers of clan members. Whether they were the Chu Clan, Ning Clan, or Baili Clan army, primary clan members led the troops while inviting talented, valorous men to join them. They also had to recruit soldiers from the outside and buy horses. Wei Mingshi had been invited into the army by Chu Yunyi with a large sum of gold. He was trained by the man, who personally taught him archery skills. Last time, Emperor Kangcheng was forced to accept Chu Tianyin’s feigned surrender because he desperately needed men to preserve the eastern borders of his lands. Now Chu Tianyin was back in control of the Western Zhou troops. Emperor Kangcheng had wracked his brain for days on how to revoke his military leadership rights, but it only gave him a headache.
Long Tianmo had recommended Wei Mingshi because 1) he wanted to express goodwill towards Emperor Kangcheng and 2) threaten the man at the same time. If Long Tianmo controlled Wei Mingshi, that meant he held the power to tell over half the Chu Clan troops in Western Zhou command to turn traitor at any time. They were liable to betray not only the country, but Chu Tianyin as well!
Back in Long Tianmo’s rooms, Mu Qingwu rose from his seat at the tea tables after a long wait. “Your Majesty, how is the situation?” he asked.
Long Tianmo and the Mu Clan shared a relationship as sovereign and vassal, but in truth they were more like equals. Without the Mu Clan, Long Tianmo’s power would have collapsed long ago. Although he had been the crown prince since childhood, years of illness had robbed him of chances to gain experience. How was he supposed to survey the ever changing storms of Cloud Realm politics at such a young age?
In truth, the honest and upright, open and aboveboard Mu Qingwu was even less suited for the task, so the true power of Tianan laid in Great General Mu’s hands. At today’s secret meeting, Long Tianmo had officially handed Wei Mingshi to Emperor Kangcheng. Tonight, Wei Mingshi would be pledging his loyalty to the Western Zhou emperor and his orders instead. In return, Emperor Kangcheng resolved to preserve this secret between them no matter what happened.
“Kangcheng agreed, so everything went smoothly,” Long Tianmo murmured.
Mu Qingwu nodded. “Then I’ll send a flying hawk message back right away. My father must be burning with impatience by now.”
A complicated look flickered past Long Tianmo’s eyes before he caught Mu Qingwu’s wrist. The general gave a start before his gaze grew complex. He could guess what Long Tianmo wanted to ask.
“Your Majesty, this soldier really had no idea until a few days ago that Wei Mingshi was one of my father’s men,” Mu Qingwu replied honestly.
“Then do you know anything else?” Long Tianmo asked icily.
If Great General Mu could stretch his fingers into the Chu Clan troops, what about everywhere else? What about Northern Li’s cavalry forces, Jun Yixie’s camp, the Ning Clan army or even the Baili soldiers? Had Great General Mu planted other agents there as well? Although Long Tianmo only had the greatest respect for Great General Mu, he had to be on his guard. Just how deep did the depths of the Mu Clan troops extend? How much power was Great General Mu really hiding? He was a true old fox that didn’t show his colors, but was he sincere about helping him uphold the Tianning imperial clan? Or did he have other motives in mind?
“I don’t know if he has others,” Mu Qingwu was telling the truth.
Long Tianmo abruptly grabbed him by the collar and demanded, “Do you and your father take me for a three-year-old child?”
Mu Qingwu didn’t struggle. “Your Majesty, this soldier hasn’t lied or hidden anything from Your Majesty up to this day.”
Long Tianmo calmed down at those words. He knew Mu Qingwu’s personality and character thoroughly. Back when Mu Qingwu tried to get close to him, it was all for the sake of investigating the embezzled grainery case. Once he found out it was the imperial uncle’s fault and not the crown prince’s Eastern Palace, the two men had gradually became a sovereign and vassal pair with no secrets from each other.
Although they couldn’t be counted as friends, their relationship had long surpassed the friendship stage.
Mu Qingwu’s words cleared Long Tianmo’s senses because he was telling the truth. However, the fact that he’d mentioned “up to this day” meant that he might lie to him in the future, because he had to listen to his father. Long Tianmo threw his hand aside. “Why does your father want to get involved in the East and West Qin conflict against the Wind Clan? You should know that, right?”
Mu Qingwu still shook his head helplessly. He had to admit, his father’s actions had frightened him. How could he not be angry when Long Tianmo was already mad? The difference laid in the fact that he’d hidden all his feelings in his heart. He was the only son of the Mu Clan and its future heir, but his father still treated him as an outsider and hid things from him. What did he count for in his eyes?
Long Tianmo couldn’t help but feel oppressed. He swished his sleeves and prepared to leave, but Mu Qingwu stopped him. “Your Majesty, although we’re far from Hundred Poisons Sect, it’s still not safe here.”
He held Long Tianmo back and stepped out himself. “Please rest early, Your Majesty.”
Long Tianmo slammed the door shut and headed for the tea table. But it was then that he saw a folded booklet lying beneath some things. He opened it up and saw that it was an admonishment to the emperor from Great General Mu, urging him to quickly procreate heirs for the Long Dynasty bloodline!
Long Tianmo laughed coldly. Ever since taking the throne, he’d never accepted any concubines nor touched Mu Liuyue. Was Great General Mu stepping out for the sake of his daughter? Judging from the current situation, it was likely he’d become the “late emperor” as soon as Mu Liuyue was pregnant with his seed. He would never repeat the same mistakes as his father. He immediately called for a guard outside and instructed, “Send out orders to prepare for arrangements to receive concubines!”
Since he had to extend the Long Dynasty line, then he might as well sprinkle rain and dew! So, Mu Liuyue, you want to bear a child? Let’s see how your skills match up!
Long Tianmo tossed the booklet harshly towards the ground and sat down at the table. As he fumed and raged, he recalled a certain stern and focused face. It had been a long, long time since he’d last seen Han Yunxi. The deep impression she’d left in his mind was her expression when taking his pulse. He never knew a woman could look so concentrated yet beautiful.
Had she already arrived?
Would she be happy that Long Feiye sought revenge for her sake at Great Central Garrison Post? Just what was their relationship now?
The Imperial Qin Uncle he’d always worshipped and respected wasn’t even part of the Tianning imperial clan. However, he didn’t resent the man, but only admired him more, if only because East and West Qin were the most respected lines of royalty across Cloud Realm Continent. Their bloodlines were indomitably noble and elevated!
Han Yunxi was Imperial Qin Uncle’s woman and his imperial aunt. He didn’t dare to entertain any wild fancies. Moreover, she had nothing to do with him now and had even become Long Feiye’s enemy. He still didn’t dare to imagine any possibilities because she was born of the West Qin imperial line.
Her sole fitting match was Long Feiye.
Tianan Country’s emperor had no sleep that night. Was he worrying over national affairs, or preoccupied with the thoughts of a certain woman?
Mu Qingwu ended up standing guard outside the door, his arms crossed over the sword at his chest. His stance looked relaxed, but his sharp, piercing eyes didn’t miss a thing.
Was he missing his sleep because of military affairs, or the pretty face of another woman in his heart?
As night drew on, the northern winds blew. Inexplicably, winter had finally arrived in Cloud Realm Continent. Northern Li had the chilliest weather, but Ning Cheng was currently drinking languidly in his tent. Even if he was alone, he could still enjoy himself! He was feeling rather great, because Bai Yuqiao’s purchase of wine had gone very smoothly. In less than a day, she’d managed to buy three tankards. With her skills, it was likely she’d get the full ten in the next few days and spend half of the money he gave her. He’d done something to each silver draft so that the Northern Li Trade Consortium merchants would recognize the signs and hand them over to Myriad Merchant Hall’s Council of Elders.
Once news spread, he could continue discussions with Jun Yixie with no reservations! At that thought, Ning Cheng’s single working eye curved into a sinister grin, giving his face a wicked air.
All he had to do now was wait for news from Hundred Poisons Sect.
In his tent, Jun Yixie was also drinking alone. He hadn’t left his quarters for a day now, so Bai Yuqiao had kept watch outside for a day as well. Both martial siblings were waiting--not for news from Hundred Poisons Sect, but their master. Would he go to Hundred Poisons Sect or Northern Li’s Sky River?
Jun Yixie raised his cup high and toasted the moon outside his window. His heart was bared towards the moon even as the moon faced a ditch. Tomorrow, if master doesn’t come, I’ll sever our relations as master and disciple!
In the Three-Way Black Markets, everyone was waiting for news of tomorrow as well. Only two people had no interest in Hundred Poisons Sect at all: Tang Li and Gu Qishao. The latter had already looked into Manager Jin’s movements at Windflower Alley. Someone had spotted him behind a brothel fighting with Uncle Cheng, but it wasn’t clear who won. Someone else had seen Manager Jin buy a carriage and leave Three-Way Black Market from the northern gate.
“It’s certain that Uncle Cheng and Manager Jin worked together to kidnap Ning Jing and the rest!” Tang Li fumed.
“To the north…” Gu Qishao mused.
Tang Li grew alarmed. “It couldn’t be that they…!”
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Y'know, I'm not even trying but some of these author's lines sure emphasize the bromance between our male characters, haha...sorry, sorry, I'll stop teasing now.
Also, a sudden thought: if Long Feiye isn't actually part of the Tianning royal family, then what the heck's his real last name? Is it still "Long?"